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(3rd LD) Ruling party expels two members suspected of online comment rigging

All Headlines 19:51 April 16, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more remarks in paras 13-15)

SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Democratic Party (DP) decided Monday to expel two members involved in an online opinion rigging scandal amid fears that the scandal could negatively affect its preparations for the June local elections.

The party's Supreme Council also agreed to form a fact-finding panel to look into the scandal so as to "restore the honor of the party members," party officials said.

On Friday, three DP members were detained for allegedly using a computer program to jack up the number of "like" or "feel the same way" clicks for comments critical of the government on news stories carried by the online portal Naver.

They reportedly told police earlier that they obtained a rigging program by chance and wanted to make it look like conservatives manipulated online opinions as they tried to test the program. Among them is a blogger, surnamed Kim, who goes by an alias, "Druking."

"The Druking case is an anti-democratic act that impedes the formation of sound public opinion and threatens democracy," Choo Mi-ae, the DP chairwoman, said during a meeting with top party officials.

"The investigation authorities must definitely find the impure motives and the forces behind the opinion rigging," she added.

Choo Mi-ae, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party, speaks during a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on April 16, 2018. (Yonhap)

Choo, in addition, expressed "serious concerns" over the opposition parties' political offensive against her party.

"We will strongly respond to the political offensive that misleads the public as if the government was responsible for (the scandal) just because Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo had had contact with (Druking)," she said.

DP lawmaker Kim, a close confidant of President Moon Jae-in, has denied any involvement in the alleged opinion rigging case, amid a flurry of news reports suggesting his possible implication in the case.

Kim called the media reports "seriously problematic."

"Malicious information claiming I was behind the case is spreading, with reports coming out without fact-checking and speculation being blown out of proportion," he said during an impromptu press conference.

"I also warn that there will be a grave judgment by citizens of the political behavior of some opposition parties engrossed with the political offensive ahead of the local elections," he added.

Kim said he got to know Druking when Druking visited him at his National Assembly office after the general election in 2016, saying he wanted to help then-opposition politician Moon Jae-in.

After last year's presidential election, Kim said Druking contacted him saying he wanted to recommend someone as a candidate for South Korea's consul-general in the Japanese city of Osaka. Kim said he conveyed the recommendation to the presidential office, but that person was found unfit for the job.

After that, Kim said, Druking began blackmailing him and he tried to distance himself from Druking.

The opposition parties stepped up their offensive against the ruling bloc.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) decided to push for an independent counsel probe into the opinion manipulation scandal. It plans to table a motion for the special probe by Tuesday.

Some LKP lawmakers visited the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency to call for a "thorough and active" investigation into the case.

"Although the police have investigated the case for more than two months, they have detained only three suspects," LKP Rep. Kim Young-woo said. "They have to announce the interim results of their probe."

Rep. Kim Young-woo (C) of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, speaks to the press during a visit to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul on April 16, 2018. (Yonhap)

The minor opposition Party for Democracy and Peace stressed the need to penalize those implicated in the case.

"We have to clarify the suspicion over whether the Democratic Party was aware of the case or collectively carried out (the opinion rigging), and gravely punish anyone responsible," Chang Byoung-wan, the party's floor leader, said.

The Bareunmirae Party also called for a thorough probe into the case.

"Our party will verify the truth to check what kind of opinion rigging compromised democracy during last year's presidential election," Yoo Seong-min, the party's co-leader, said.


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